Chesapeake Bay Health Slipping Year by Year

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, December 11, 2007 (ENS) – The health of the Chesapeake Bay is deteriorating, according to a new report from the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Meanwhile, the governors of states bordering the Bay say they are doing their best to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary and claim they are making progress.

With three years to go before the court-ordered deadline to remove the Chesapeake Bay from the federal list of impaired waters, the foundation’s annual State of the Bay report shows that a health index of 13 factors slipped one point from last year.

“Time is running out, and the Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure, remains in critical condition, said foundation President William C. Baker. “Restoring the Bay is not rocket science. What does it say about a society when we can put a man on the moon but not be able to save the Chesapeake Bay?”

The foundation says this year’s decline was the result of increased amounts of the nutrient phosphorus running off the surrounding lands into the Bay, decreased water clarity, and habitat and harvest pressures on the Bay’s blue crab population.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley hosted the 2007 Chesapeake Executive Council annual meeting in Annapolis December 5.

Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson and Chesapeake Bay Commission Chair James Hubbard participated, along with representatives from Delaware, West Virginia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In his status report on bay restoration efforts, Johnson told the Council members that at the current pace, the 2010 goals for nutrient reduction set in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement cannot be met.

In an effort to increase accountability of restoration programs, each member of the Executive Council agreed to champion specific actions on behalf of the partnership.

The Executive Council signed a new Forest Conservation Implementation Plan to permanently protect an additional 695,000 acres of forest in the Bay watershed and to increase the acreage of riparian buffers and urban tree canopies.

To discuss how developing new cellulosic ethanol production technologies can protect the Bay and its watershed, Pennsylvania will convene a summit of environmental and technical experts next year, Governor Rendell announced.

The group will focus on sustainability, forest and wildlife health, energy demands, water quality and how best to develop the technology within the Bay region.

Maryland will work on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Partnership to hold a “local leadership summit” that focuses on developing a better model for delivering services and results at the local level – making local governments, communities and citizens true partners.

Maryland will work with Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and other traditional stakeholders to develop actions to enhance stock abundance of the Bay’s blue crab.

Governor Edward Rendell outlined how Pennsylvania’s combination of mandatory requirements and environmental stewardship has led to sizeable reductions in nutrient and sediment pollution to the Chesapeake Bay since 2004.

The progress has been achieved through a combination of tough new measures designed to reduce point and nonpoint source pollution.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge crosses the bay in Maryland. (Photo courtesy USDA)

Municipal wastewater treatment plants are now operating under mandatory nutrient limits in order to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements, and any new residential and commercial developments projects in Pennsylvania must eliminate or offset all nutrient and phosphorous discharges.

Developers can apply wastewater effluent to crops, recycle or reuse the effluent, create on-lot systems, or purchase nutrient credits, among other techniques.

Nutrient trading programs in Pennsylvania and Virginia allow for the transfer of credits among existing facilities to meet their nutrient limits

Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine announced last week that his state’s largest wastewater treatment facilities and industries within the Chesapeake Bay watershed expect to meet their nutrient reduction goals by the end of 2010.

Facilities will reduce the amount of nutrients in wastewater by participating in Virginia’s nutrient trading program and installing pollution control technology.

“This will be a huge step forward for Virginians and the Chesapeake Bay,” Governor Kaine said. “We have made a significant investment to protect the Bay, we have spent the money wisely and we are accomplishing what we set out to do.”

Nutrient trading is anticipated to save Virginia and the participating localities up to $200 million. Trading will also reduce the costs of upgrading pollution control technology, which are estimated at about $1.4 billion to install by the end of 2010.

Wastewater treatment plant improvements installed before 2011 are expected to reduce the annual amount of nutrients discharged by about eight million pounds of nitrogen and 1 million pounds of phosphorus, as compared with 1998.

“The nutrient trading program is one of the most comprehensive efforts ever conducted in Virginia to reduce nutrient pollution,” Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant Jr. said. “It also will strengthen an important partnership between wastewater facilities and agricultural producers that will lead to nutrient reductions from several sources.”

“We recognize that meeting the 2010 deadline is a significant challenge,” said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor. “The municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities have answered the call to reduce nutrient pollution in Virginia’s watersheds, and the result certainly will be a healthier Bay.”

In addition to nutrient trading, facilities will reduce the amount of nutrients in wastewater by installing pollution control technology. The Virginia Water Quality Improvement Fund’s point source program has received a total of $380 million for grants since its inception in 1997.

Lawmakers and Governor Kaine authorized an additional $250 million in bonds to support technology upgrades after July 1, 2008. The Virginia Resources Authority complemented these initiatives by issuing more than $240 million in bonds this year for upgrades to 10 facilities in the Bay atershed.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation applauds Governor Kaine and the General Assembly for their commitment and leadership in funding pollution reductions from local sewage treatment plants to meet 2010 Bay cleanup goals,” said Ann Jennings, Virginia Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “CBF looks forward to working with the Kaine administration and the legislature to continue this positive momentum to fully restore Virginia rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.”

“We are at a key crossroad in our Bay restoration efforts,” said Governor O’Malley. “With the alignment of political leadership, public will and good science, we now have the moral imperative to turn back the decline in the Bay’s health decades in the making and begin restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

About 200 miles long from the Susquehanna River in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south, the Chesapeake Bay watershed covers 64,299 square miles in the District of Columbia and parts of six states – New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. More than 150 rivers and streams drain into the Bay.

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